Times Are Changing -- but Some Things Never Do -- in 'Downton Abbey' Premiere

Downton Abbey

At long last! The restless, ravishing, and quite often ridiculous residents of our favorite manor are back, and the shenanigan levels are high as ever. Thank goodness! (But don't keep reading if you don't want to encounter any spoilers!)

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The episode contains many of the classic Downton moments we've come to love -- a gorgeously filmed fox hunt (prefaced, of course, by the riders on horseback being served refreshments in silver goblets, off of silver trays, naturally); a saucy and devious chambermaid threatening blackmail; several zingers from the Dowager Countess ("Does it ever get cold on the moral high ground?"); and -- last, but certainly not least -- Lord Grantham coming face-to-face with ... an actual refrigerator!

The entirely unsubtle theme of the episode can be summed up as: The times they are a changin'. In fact, I truly kept expecting Bob Dylan to pop up at any minute. (Come gather 'round people / Wherever you roam / And admit that the waters / Around you have grown...)

[[SPOILERS AHEAD!]]

Downton Abbey

Lady Edith is running a newspaper and pondering a move to her London flat; Lady Mary is riding astride her horse and taking over Tom's role as estate agent; the Granthams are facing another round of staff downsizing ("Who has an underbulter these days?") as their nearest neighbors are forced to sell their estate and auction off their treasured possessions...

But, despite all of the hints -- subtle and overt -- that the world of Downton Abbey is rapidly changing, right before their eyes and ours, the moments in the show that focus on the timeless things that will never change struck most poignant, touching, and honest chords. 

The impending marriage of two of Downton's best characters, Carson and Mrs. Hughes, comes into peril because of a fear that Mrs. Hughes confesses to her loyal friend, Mrs. Patmore. Like a good bestie, Patmore can see that something's up with Hughes, so she makes her sit down and tell her about it. Their exchange is one that any woman with a BFF will recognize:

Mrs. Hughes: You'll say I'm being stupid.

Mrs. Patmore: Well, maybe you are!

Downton Abbey Hughes Patmore

Right? If you don't have a friend who will talk to you like that, then you're missing out on one of the most important things in life. Of course, Mrs. Patmore's help doesn't end there. She manages to pry out of Mrs. Hughes that the bride-to-be is scared of what will happen on her wedding night. It's not that Hughes is afraid of sex, per se, but, being a woman of a certain age -- with a body that goes along with that certain age -- she admits to a feeling many women of a certain age (single or not!) can relate to.

"I'm afraid to let him see me!" she confesses.

Does she not want to have sex at all, inquires Mrs. Patmore (in not so many words)? Or, perhaps does she just want to keep the lights out?

"I don't know what I want," Mrs. Hughes shares. "Except not to feel embarrassed and absurd."

It's a vulnerable and raw scene, and the ensuing follow-up scenes are incredibly moving in their tender and humane portrayals of two people in love in their late mid-life.

Then there are the Bateses. FINALLY -- thank goodness -- the ENDLESS Bates-might-end-up-in-jail-did-he-or-didn't-he scenario seems to have come AT LAST to a happy conclusion. This wonderful news resulted in Veuve Cliquot for all, thanks to Lord and Lady Grantham. (They should have passed me a glass, so happy was I to toast to the end of this story line!)

But, this being Anna and the Bateses, all is not completely well in their world, of course. Earlier in the episode, Anna is heartbroken to confess to Bates that she just miscarried for a third time. It's a devastating scene, one that all too many would-be-parents can understand.

But, who knows? There are seven more episodes plus a Christmas special to come, so I wouldn't write off a Bates baby just yet.

As for what else we can possibly expect for the rest of the season ... Predictions? Both Lady Mary and Lady Edith expressed being resigned to a life without further love ... so I expect them both to be proven wrong, in suitably dramatic and thrilling plot turns, since that's generally how real life works, too.

Daisy is showing herself time and time again to be a woman to be reckoned with; her taking on of the new owners of Mallerton Hall -- who have unceremoniously turned her father-in-law out of the farm he's cared for his entire adult life -- was perhaps unwise, but it shows her fire. I expect interesting things from her as the season progresses.

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And finally, can we all make a wish for Thomas to find a bit of happiness? Yes, he's been a right bastard, over and over again, but he's also one of the most lonely and tortured characters, season after season. Seeing him spending half of his screen time giving the kids of the house piggy-back rides -- or talking about having just given piggy-back rides -- reminds me that there's a good heart in there, too. I'm hoping for a little bit of the happiness for Thomas Barrow. (And not just because he's so hot.)

It's so good to have our Downton clan back, isn't it? Even if we know what they don't know ... that they've got a scant 15 years before the turmoil of World War II, and the changes they're experiencing now are just the beginning.

If your time to you
Is worth savin'
Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'...

No matter what lies ahead for any of our Downton friends, the deeper themes of character, friendship, sexuality, the role and place of women in society, and good old love will be what continue to carry the show ... and make it so hard to say good-bye at the end of this season. I already need another glass of Veuve just thinking about it!
 
 
 
Images via iStock.com/Dutourdumonde Photography; Courtesy of Nick Briggs/Carnival Film; Television Limited 2015 for MASTERPIECE
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